Technological advancements have made it easier to access medical information or open conversations about prevailing health concerns. Tech has enabled us to familiarize ourselves more with health and medicine – making it easier to diagnose and track information relevant to individual queries and cases. Although we may perceive the global advancements as extensive, health systems in LMICs (low- and middle- income countries) continue to face a number of substantial challenges. Tech is increasing quality of life for almost everyone but must be driven and adapted to the needs of those who have less access to it. Many populations continue to live in the shadows of modern-day developments. Vulnerable populations are in need of stronger initiatives from the global community to utilize technology and to bridge the current divide in health care.
In 2019, Nancy Finn, a writer and thought leader on the impact of digital communication, addressed the United Nations and presented some successful and inspiring pilot projects that are underway in developing countries. Mobile phones have fast become an important tool to address healthcare needs all over the world.
As part of the mHealth initiative, many countries are beginning to realize the value of mobile devices to support public health practices and in raising awareness.
Across Africa, text messages in local dialects are sent to cellphone users to tell them about vaccination programs, malaria prevention, nutrition, and basic hygiene. Mobile phone interventions using texting have also been trialed in the Philippines, Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to help with diabetes self-management.
Since its deployment in 2016, Amref has used the mHealth solution, Leap, to train 100 healthcare workers from 50 facilities across Tanzania. Leap employs an appropriate mobile learning approach to train and empower health workers using their mobile devices operating from any phone. This enables health workers to learn at their own pace and with their own mobile devices while in the community.
Leap contributes to driving long-term health change for communities in Sub-Saharan Africa by increasing access to quality, timely and appropriate training by reaching learners on any device. The SMS feature has led to an increase in the uptake of vaccination services by parents and caregivers.
Short Message Services (SMS), are now being widely used to educate people and to provide them with health information on best practices. In Bangladesh, new and expectant mothers can opt-in to receive twice-weekly SMS reminders about checkups, medication and nutrition guidelines.
Studies conducted by Mohan and colleagues found that with simple messages, patients reported feeling more confident in their treatment (Mohan et al., 2017). This study and others, suggest that mHealth initiatives provide more outreach of medical support and guidance to those who have limited daily access to information and medical care.
The pilots demonstrate how a simple text message can provide important information to a broader outreach of people. The World Health Organization has recognized a shortage of health care workers in many countries across the world (Albino et al., 2014). This highlights a greater need for innovative and effective solutions to help improve the health outcomes of more vulnerable populations. However, each community will have varying levels of technological literacy, which may present challenges in implementing mHealth strategies more broadly; we cannot assume that all vulnerable populations will be able to utilize/benefit from the technology even if it was available to them.
Despite the success of platforms such as Amref, sustaining and upscaling mHealth projects is limited by policy, infrastructure and the human capacity that is required, according to Amref Kenya’s Operations and Delivery Lead Peter Otieno. Most countries do not yet have policies that enable the implementation of mHealth initiatives beyond the pilot phase. The mHealth strategy will support and facilitate efforts to bridge the gap in under-resourced settings across the world but fundamental socio-economic challenges must also be considered when addressing global health objectives.
Mohan, B., Sharma, S., Sharma, S., Kaushal, D., Singh, B., Takkar, S., … & Wander, G. S. (2017). Assessment of knowledge about healthy heart habits in urban and rural population of Punjab after SMS campaign—A cross-sectional study. Indian heart journal, 69(4), 480-484.
Kruse, C., Betancourt, J., Ortiz, S., Luna, S. M. V., Bamrah, I. K., & Segovia, N. (2019). Barriers to the Use of Mobile Health in Improving Health Outcomes in Developing Countries: Systematic Review. Journal of medical Internet research, 21(10), e13263.